As in Behind the Scenes at the Museum and Human Croquet, Atkinson
once again uses all her sorcery with language to bedazzle the
reader. In essence this is a simple story. Nora and Effie (who
might be mother and daughter) are living on an otherwise deserted
Scottish island. They are the last of the line of Stuart-Murrays.
Student Effie is recuperating from a nasty bout of flu and to
relieve the tedium of rainy days and long, dark nights, they tell
each other stories which might, or might not, be true. Nora's,
brief and uninformative to begin with, are about the family's past
('Grand Guinol, with a pinch of Greek Tragedy'). Effie's graphic,
satirical stories are set in the 1970s and revolve around student
life and her shiftless friends - interspersed with chunks of her
Writing Assignment, which rapidly turns into a crime novel. As
always, the story is overflowing with invention, marvellous
descriptions, and laugh-aloud jokes. This is, in fact, a novel with
a life of its own - a book one could easily be persuaded 'wrote
itself' - though on reflection it is carefully controlled, and has
its own logic. And at the end all is revealed and all loose ends
firmly knotted. There are many loose ends. Who is Effie's father?
Who, indeed, her real mother? Who were Nora's parents? Who is
following Effie when she's in Dundee and for what reason? Why are
so many old people dying in the local retirement home? Don't worry,
all will become transparent before the last page is - reluctantly -
turned. (Kirkus UK)
The latest magical mystery tour de force from one of Britain's most
original novelists - winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award for
Behind the Scenes at the Museum.
On a peat and heather island off the West Coast of Scotland, Effie
and her mother, Nora, take refuge in the large mouldering house of
their ancestors and tell each other stories. Nora, at first,
recounts nothing that Effie really wants to hear, such as the
identity of her real father - variously Jimmy, Jack, or Ernie.
Effie tells of her life at college in Dundee, the land of cakes and
William Wallace, where she lives in a lethargic relationship with
Bob, a student who never goes to lectures, seldom gets out of bed,
and to whom the Klingons are as real as the French and the Germans.
But strange things are happening. Why is Effie being followed? Is
someone killing the old people? And where is the mysterious yellow
In a brilliant comic narrative which explores the nonsensical
nature of language and meaning, Kate Atkinson has created another
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